tv Washington Week With Gwen Ifill PBS November 28, 2014 7:30pm-8:01pm PST
depfl americans may have depiven thanks for many things this holiday but in many cases it's not for the people who run their government. we hear what you have to say on "washington week." >> no charge exists for officer wilson. >> what are you saying, our lives are not worthy? >> we here to recognize the situation in ferguson speaks to broader challenges we still face as a nation. >> as the holidays rev up, we enter a season of discontent.
>> when are they going to stop fighting each other and represent their constituents? >> i don't understand why it they're spyless. it embarrassed me. gwen: as citizens demand more of their government. but worry that they are getting less. plus -- >> i have today submitted my resignation as secretary of defense. >> gwen: why the pentagon chief is stepping down after just two years on the job. leadership, crises and ebb and flow of politics. is there a long view to be had? we ask you and reporters covering the holiday week. peter baker, chief white house competent for "the new york times," dan vault, chief correspondent for "the washington post." susan davis, chief congressional corespondent for "usa today." and pierre thomas, senior justice corespondent for abc news.
>> from our nation's capital, this is "washington week" with gwen ifill. corporate funding for "washington week" is .ed by -- -- provided by -- >> funding for "washington week" is also provided by -- the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to pbs stations
from viewers like you. thank you. once again, from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. we're bringing you a slightly different program this week. that's because we reached out to you to hear what you want to talk about and several of you get to play the role of fifth panelist tonight. this week's biggest story comes from ferguson, missouri, where darren wilson, the white police officer who killed black teenager michael brown was not indicted by a grand jury. the debate that proceeded that decision had cast a shadow for 107 days and it's not over yet. john from tallahassee, florida, wrote this --
pierre, what kind of challenge does that leave for the jut and law enforcement? >> if there are going to be criminal charges, the criminal justice has to be the entity that does it. the jut department has a high threshold in this case. they would have to prove officer wilson's actions were unreasonable and that he intentionally violated michael brown's constitutional rights. it's a high threshold but i can tell you investigation is quite vigorous. i think where it's going to differ somewhat from the state investigation has done is they will look a lot more deep into officer wilson's background in terms of did he have any excessive forces, complaints against him and also look at michael brown's history to see did this young man have any history of significant violence. gwen: the prosecutor mccullough left a distinct impression he and the justice department were in lockstep at least on the evidence in this. was that overstated? >> the attorney general put out a statement quickly that night saying that the justice
department investigation was, quote, independent and ongoing. and he also did an on-camera statement yesterday where i think he tried to make it very, very clear that he's not in lockstep necessarily with that prosecutor. gwen: so peter, the white house obviously has a challenge here as it does periodically on these types of issue. is the president between a rock and hard place zpwhen >> yeah, it's a verbal place for him. one place he's not comfortable in. he came out within 90 minutes of the grand jury decision being announced that night to appeal for calm on television. i think he was left with a split screen image that didn't satisfy anyone, probably not him either, in which on the one hand we had him talking about calm and on the other you saw tear gas canisters being deployed and violence on the streets. pressure on him to go to ferguson to actually try to directly engage in this. and he's trying to find a balance as all presidents do in the circumstances between channeling angst and channeling very real passions and emotions of the people who are upset
about this, while not interfering directly into a judicial process, into a law enforcement process. gwen: i listened to the president's statement on the radio that night and i didn't get the split screen that a lot of people did, which reminds me how complicated this could be in terps of images and perceptions for officials. i'm thinking of jay nixon, governor of missouri. he spent a lot of time with governors. this seems to be a unique set of challenges. >> it's difficult, in a different way than president obama has to deal with it. because it's right there, he's got second guessed every step of the way and often for good reason. he's often not seemed like he's been quite on top of things or knowing what the right step at the right moment is, if anyone does -- gwen: can. >> yes, they're terribly difficult to try it work through those different challenges. but i don't think the work he has done has been very universally judged to have contributed in a positive way to the situation there. gwen: and so i have not heard a
peep from anybody on capitol hill about this. i mean, it seems awfully quiet. >> it is. in some ways there's not really a congressional role to draw directly to what happened in ferguson. i did think there was an overwhelming number of responses from lawmakers, particularly in the congressional caucus. john conyers and john lewis, both involved in the civil rights movement put out i thought particularly poignant statements. connier's statement was there's a much bigger issue here than just what happened between michael brown and this one incident and larger conversation that does need to go on. the one legislative thing i would say that is significant and maybe revived by ferguson is there is a bipartisan effort by cory booker and rand paul to do pretty good overall of the criminal justice system sentencing reform, in large part and rand paul's vocal about this, the inequities in the system and how we jail black men versus white men. trying to actually find a legislative solution there. gwen: so much of this is about leadership and who gets to lead. many of you were thinking more
cognizantly about where washington is these days. if the election showed us cognizantly about where washington is these days. if the election showed us anything, many of you are sick to death of the debates and disputes. >> in the context of political leadership actually doing the jobs to which they were elected, mediating or ameliorating complexing or challenging issues, don't they recognize that absolute is vitt treel and it hardens heart and perpetuates conflict? i'm concerned the current words warfare being waged across our country is not only destabilizing our democracy but corrupting a generation of leadership. gwen: we will start with you on that. that's directed exactly at the kinds of standoffs we see in congress. >> i think that's right. this is a question we hear a lot, particularly in political campaigns, what good person in their right mind would want to run for political office in the current climate? i would argue i think a lot of that is linked to the reliance on fund raising and how the money that's involved in politics and corrupting factor there that people just -- that
just sheer breath of money you have to run for major office. i don't necessarily know if we can gauge the tenor and tone of politics now to -- if you take the long view over the history of american politics, we had pretty ugly, voracious, political debates in this country. i'm not sure this i would consider the apex of that. as far as next generation political leaders go, i still think there's a tremendous number of rising stars in elected office who are young, who have new ideas and not necessarily beholden to that kind of language, even in the latest election i would think corey gardner, someone like him with republicans point to as sort of optimist. new senator from colorado has optimistic view of conservatism and people pointing to him saying this is somebody we can point to. gwen: let's talk a little bit about what takes to serve, not just be elected to office. we saw this week secretary of defense, former senator chuck hagel step down. only two years on the job.
maybe that's because the job is too hard. maybe it's because he wasn't the right fit. depends who you talk to. >> he didn't have a great tenure i think. one that probably not satisfying to him. third secretary of defense for president obama now heading to fourth after six years. hagel was appointed with the idea he would draw down the war in afghanistan that would draw down some of the spending in pentagon and prepare for new era where now heading in the opposite direction, now engaged in new war in iraq and syria, different kind of war. and he never seemed to click with the president. there seems to be disconnect here when you hear the stories from the pentagon or white house as they describe the situation in meetings where secretary hagel was largely quiet. he said well, i save advice separately for the president. president was turning more and more to his chief general dempsey. didn't seem a relationship that was working. gwen: let's talk more about relationships and talk more about policy. there's another issue that never seems to resolve itself and
that's health care. and since so many republicans were elected promising to take an actively affordable care act and the supreme court may lead them to the punch, questions like this one matter -- if we get rid of the health care plan, this viewer wrote, we have in place now, what is the backup plan? what do you replace this with? dan? >> nice of you to ask me to answer that question. gwen: yes, i thought so. >> the backup plan is nonexistant at this point. there are a variety of ideas within the republican party about what to do. individual members of congress, some governors, governor jindal of louisiana put forth a plan. they all are similar in terms of principles. they would rely more on free market competition. they would allow health plan across straight lines, insurance across state lines. but no one has come up with something that seems to be able to give a consensus within the
republican parties. one of the chaffle everythings they face in this law, people don't like the law in the abstract, a lot of the individual pieces are very well liked. and navigating through keeping the parts of people like and pulling apart the rest is really much more difficult than anybody gives credit for. gwen: pierre, even though the house has voted 100 times to repeal this, the supreme court may end up being the one that has a say in the next session about -- current session, about what happens to it. >> a lot of administration officials who obviously support the law are worried the supreme court is the wild card. they can make significant change and basically the whole thing starts to fall apart. they are hopeful that won't happen but clearly this law is such a controversial law. and it epitomizes what a lot of the viewers are talking about. it shows congress unwilling to do but seemed to be a generation ago lawmakers at the end of the day, even when they fought for weeks, sometimes months, would
have a moment when they would sit down and resolve issues and that does not seem to happen very often in washington. gwen: congress is going to take this up again? this will be a big, big fight again just to say they did it? >> i think they will do it to say they did it. i don't think repeal is the orbit of things that are possible. even if they -- they have congress but if they pass it, it will meet with president obama's veto. most likely thing and there's some movement within republicans circles to have imprint on health care, improve the system. there's still a lot of implementation issue that's this has but at the same time it would have to be recognition on behalff republicans this is the law of the land and still so divisive within their party, don't think even if leadership wanted to prove the system, they have the votes to move anything along those lines. gwen: we did get more than a few questions about policy debate like health care but we also got these two about the environment -- >> how they can work together better on the environment. it's really important to keep
our planets safe and i just feel like they're not working together and not understanding it's kind of a ticking time bomb. >> i would like to know if your panelist thinks president obama recent announcement the climate change in china has started a tipping point and americans are finally addressing this issue seriously. gwen: ticking time bomb, our favorite kind, peter. also this week we saw the administration is moving on ozone rules. doing a lot of poking your eye issues to force the issue. >> do what they can with the executive power they have. the president last summer kicked off a process that will buy the end of his administration significantly limit power plans under the clean air act. power given to them by congress and sanctioned by the supreme court. and yet it is in fact productive to republicans who don't support these measures. his agreement in china is interesting. first time we got china, second biggest polluter, and rising.
second after us, to agree to limits. they're not agreeing to as much environmentalists would like them to but it's the first time. the problem is it's a nonbinding agreement. this isn't going to the senate for vote for treaty. this is the president of the united states saying, this is what i'm saying i will do but he will be out of office in two years. gwen: it seems to the issue of bipartisan. one of the other bipartisan issue is taxes and the tax revealed this week he's willing to veto a lovely agreement that had been worked out about giving corporate tax leaf but not middle class tax relief. >> it's true. it was a really interesting decision by the white house. they announced they would veto a bill we have not seen seen yet. there's a contours of agreement on capitol hill but we don't have bill text. the white house got out in front what we are hearing, we would need the president's veto. i think part of this is that this longer-term recognition democrats have coming out of this election they had a bad message on the economy, that they need to have a stronger message on the middle class and looking for opportunities to
drive that message home and this tax bill is -- we heard it from nancy pelosi on the bill as well, they see this as a way to spark that argument about how democrats are the party of the middle class, even to this bill involved far more tax provisions than just what affects american families. gwen: there are so many things the administration has undertaken just in the last few weeks. unilaterally whether veto threats that never existed before or climate change agreements. you name it. seems to be part of a strategy of what the hay, we're going to go for the wall here. >> immigration is the biggest. what he did on immigration. gwen: right. >> i think it's a function, gwen, of the fact that we are six years into a relationship between congressional republicans and the president. and both sides so distrust the other and feel that there's so little likelihood they can work on anything large, to get small bipartisan agreements. on any of the large issues,
particularly at the white house, peter would know better than i but i think there's a belief they will move the way they want to move. will not worry about what congress does or says. i have been struck, as you have, by the aggressiveness of the white house in the face of a very bad beating in the election. gwen: so much to watch but for other subjects to talk about, good, old-fashioned politics. one thing we will spend time doing in 2015 is tracking ups and downs of the men and women who want to be president. one candidate who took a hit and kept on ticking is new jersey governor chris christie. >> governor chris christie has the persona that he asks the tough questions. so how come he didn't ask the simple question -- who closed down the freeway? if he can't ask the simple question, how does he expect to become president in 2016?
gwen: pierre, you spent time covering bridgegate. i'm curious whether that is over. he's just overcome that? >> the justice department investigation continues. to be determined what they're going to do. when that shoe drops, good or bad for the governor, it's going to be a huge story. it's something a cloud that's still hanging over him. when a federal investigation is under way and you have f.b.i. involved, you just don't know how it's going to turn out. they have immense powers to put people under intense pressure. the thing that would be troubling if i'm the governor is you're not hearing a lot about where the case is. gwen: politically he certainly seems to be hey, carrying yourself like a man past him. >> he's certainly acting that way. if the shoe drops, it will drop as pierre says, in a big way, particularly if there's any implication he was involved. but he's operating as if he's confident that that's not going to be the case.
he scored big vktries and held on to races they were worried about. he was tireless this fall not only raising money for the republican governors association. he was the chair. they raised more than $100 million under his tenure. gwen: and had a lot to show for it. >> had a lot to show for it. he was in places, maryland, big surprise when hogan won that race. he was in there three times in the last 10 days, twice in the last five days. showed a level of commitment when i was down at the republican governors association earlier this month and watched the governors praise governor christie for the work he had done and thank governor christie for the investment and commitment he made, he certainly earned chips among his fellow governors. gwen: is there any evidence the white house cares about 2016? if they do, are they watching republicans who are closely with the democrats?
>> they do care, obviously, if nothing else president obama understands if leaves office and hands it over to chris christie or another republican, his health care program, immigration, executive order, suddenly might be back on the table. more immediately two other impacts. one is he has to find people to fill jobs. he is lookingc13 impacts. one is he has to find people to fill jobs. he is looking for new defense secretary. one of the candidates was largely thought to be waiting for hillary clinton to be her defense secretary. does that mean he's having a hard time getting democrats to sign on board last two years of ending administration rather than wait for the next one? secondly, is there enough time, how much time does he have to make a deal before 2016 sucks all of the action out of him? gwen: we will conclude with a couple of questions that seem to sum up frustration so many viewers say they're feeling. here's one -- can the two parties in the 2015 edition of the house and senate play nice in the sandbox, or are we in for two more years of finger-pointing, gridlock and law making in action?
here's another dwrsh does it seem we're going backwards instead of forward? now, you're in the place where you see things go backward and sometimes forward, sue. what's the answer to that one? >> i think it's a little bit of both. i think there's certainly an ability for the incoming republican congress and president obama to find some common ground. strange issue where there's overlap between the circles of ideology. talk about taxes on the corporate side of the tax code, could see developments there. president would like a trade bill. in asia part of his foreign policy legacy is he's trying to make inroads and change asia policy. i think he has allies on that front. on the big questions, health care law, immigration. on the 30,000-foot problems, i think it will still be a very contentious two years. but putting points pont board, incremental progress, is how congress tends to work and i incremental progress, is how congress tends to work and i think that is forward-looking progress. gwen: time thoughts? >> i agree on that. i think there's opportunity for smaller things but i think on
the big things country is divided and washington reflects that. >> when i talk to friends outside the beltway, they think of frustration and see no end in sight. i can't sit here and say i expect anything significant coming up. gwen: ok, peter, looking for optimism here. >> i think there's possibility. look at the last several two-term presidents. last two years were all about to be lame duck periods. ronald reagan, bill clinton, george w. bush. each of them actually managed to do thing it's that had not been expected at this particular point. when we sat around the table probably in those administrations we would have said, oh, last two years pretty grim for the president and he got things down. still hope i think for the next two years. gwen: are they reading the same history books you're reading in the west wing? >> they're seizing on to every glimmer of optimism they can. they feel liberated b optimism they feel liberated by the end of the midterms. they don't kowtow to the democrats in congress and can go forward with priorities on their own. gwen: we will be watching for all of that.
unfortunately we have to leave you a little bit tonight so you can support the stations who support us. before we go, we want to send our condolences to the family of marion barry, former mayor of washington, d.c. he will be remembered for leadership in the civil rights movement and for his controversial political career and as mayor who defined a city and era. marion barry was 78 years old. now we turn it back over to you. eat leftovers, shop. by all means, but debate it all among yourselves. even if you don't agree, especially if you don't agree, that's the price of citizenship. and remember to be thankful. see you next week on "washington week." good night.
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